Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Parenting Through Depression #BellLetsTalk

I wrote this quite a while back, but never posted. I thought it would be appropriate to share it today, on Bell Let's Talk Day. It's important for us all to talk about our experiences with mental health and illness. It's important that we open discussion and alleviate stigma.

Why? Well, because according to the Canadian Institute of Health Research, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives. The Canadian Medical Association tells us that 2 out of 3 will suffer in silence, out of fear of the reactions of others. We can do better.

I was diagnosed with clinical depression in 1995. I've had ups and downs, but am happy to say that today I am in a good place. I still have depression, but it is well-managed with medications, coping skills, and an awesome support network. I am lucky for all that. But there are still some bad days.


Monday was a beautiful day. Blue sky and sunshine, a lovely fall breeze. The leaves are turning radiant shades of red and orange and yellow. This was a day of hope and optimism. I felt great. I walked the dog. I voted. I made dinner. I got work done.

Sunday was a grey day. Damp chilly. Dark. I spent the day on the couch. I let my child skip his karate lesson. He wanted to watch YouTube and play on his DS. I let him. He stayed in his pajamas all day. So did I. I made him a PB&J sandwich for dinner. I didn't eat.

Some days depression wins, and parenting follows the path of least resistance. Some days there's simply no energy to enforce the rules or create activities and fun.

I have a history of depression, and I've had two particularly difficult periods in my illness. The first led to my diagnosis, and the second was 2 years ago. So, 15 years or so apart. Not bad really. I am lucky that my depression is kept mostly under control with medication and my ongoing practice of CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy).  But when I have a low day, my low is way lower than the average person's low. Thankfully I've learned ways to bounce back pretty quickly.

Depression affects so many aspects of your life. There's exhaustion and physical pain. Difficulty making decisions. Irritability. Anger. Confusion. And of course the sadness you immediately think of. And depression affects your family too. They watch you suffer, and they can suffer from lack of attention and care.

As a parent, it can be difficult to maintain consistency with the rules and consequences. Some days depression has used up all your energy, and it can feel impossible to find the stamina to deal with a toddler tantrum or to enforce the no devices at the dinner table rule. Wouldn't it just be easier to let it slide? And if the kids are playing with their phones, I won't have to make conversation. That's a help. But boy is that ever confusing for the kids.

When I'm having a low day, mealtimes seem to come around every five minutes. Someone always needs something. The phone won't stop ringing. Everything is overwhelming. And I just want to hide.

But I'm a parent, and I have to reach to find the reserves somewhere in there. And mostly I do. Boo has never gone hungry or missed bath time. I've never sent him to school in his pajamas (other than on pajama day) or without a lunch. But I'm not always a lot of fun.

Thankfully my low days are few and far between. The issue on Sunday? I forgot to take my pill. It was after noon before I figured it out. My morning routine had gotten interrupted and the medicine just didn't happen. Couple that with the dreary weather and a lack of sleep, and the whole day suddenly makes sense. That in itself helps me to bounce back, knowing there was a concrete cause for my low mood, one that I can manage and avoid in future.

Let the sunshine in


Parenting is a tough gig. Couple that with a mental health concern and some days can seem truly insurmountable. Do I have a message for you here? I guess so. I want to open up about my depression, to contribute to the conversation. And I also want us all to watch out for each other, and to try to keep the judgement at bay. Some days we're just doing our best to keep the boat afloat.

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